The two main aims of the drugs that are available for people with MS are to either ease specific symptoms (symptomatic therapies), or reduce the risk of relapses and disease progression (these are known as ‘disease modifying therapies.’) Acute relapses are also sometimes treated using steroids to help shorten the attack and reduce its severity. The types of drugs used in treatment depend on a number of factors, including the person's type of MS.
Some of the drug treatments available include:
- Disease modifying therapies, also called immunotherapies, work by modifying the activity of the immune system to slow the frequency and severity of attacks to the central nervous system. This means the myelin sheaths are subjected to less damage. These medications are most often prescribed for people with relapsing-remitting MS.
- Steroid medication (such as methylprednisolone) is often used to control the severity of an MS attack, by easing inflammation at the affected site
- Immune suppressants such as methotrexate or mitoxantrone, are sometimes used, especially for people with progressive MS
Generic medications for MS
The MS therapy landscape is continuously evolving and from 2019 it is likely that generic disease-modifying therapies will become available to treat MS in Australia.
You can read our factsheet here on 'Generic medications for MS' here.
Get advice about medications
MS Australia does not recommend a particular therapy as this is a clinical decision which you need to make with your neurologist.
MS staff can provide detailed information about medications and discuss what's important in your personal decision making process: contact your state MS society.
Summary of MS Treatments
MS is a very variable disease. In addition, everyone responds differently to different medications and may experience different side-effects.
It is difficult to directly compare the effectiveness of different MS medications as in most cases they have not been directly tested against each other in what is known as ‘head-to-head’ clinical trials.
Life circumstances may also affect treatment choices for each individual – e.g. other medical conditions, family planning, employment, travel, etc.
It is therefore important to discuss the pros and cons of any medication that is recommended for you by your neurologist in relation to all of these factors.
More detail on each of these medications can be found in our medications factsheets (set out below) that summarise the key information, including potential side effects, to provide you with background information that you can then discuss with your healthcare providers.
Medications Fact Sheets
Treatment for specific symptoms
There are treatment sheets available for the following three symptomatic therapies:
Botox – for the treatment of urinary incontinence
Fampyra - to improve walking
Sativex – to alleviate muscle stiffness (spasticity)
Other symptomatic treatments that may sometimes be recommended for people living with MS may include, for example:
Baclofen – for muscle control and to alleviate spasticity
Naltrexone – to address fatigue and depression
Ditropan, Betmiga – for bladder dysfunction
The treatment of symptoms associated with MS often goes beyond medications and may involve forms of therapy, exercise, dietary changes and the use of aids and equipment.
For more information about particular symptoms and ways to address them, please visit our symptoms page.
Seek professional advice
Get advice from your neurologist or GP about what medical treatments and self-management strategies might be most suitable for you.
Support for you
Every person's experience of living with MS is different. Find the support and services you need to meet your individual circumstances.
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